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From Bondage to Belonging

From Bondage to Belonging: The Worcester Slave Narratives

B. Eugene McCarthy
Thomas L. Doughton
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 384
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vk5d6
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  • Book Info
    From Bondage to Belonging
    Book Description:

    First published between 1842 and 1895, the autobiographical narratives gathered in this volume document the experiences of eight former slaves who eventually took up residence in Worcester, Massachusetts. Each narrative tells a gripping individual story, its author clearly visible in the dress of his or her own words. Together they illuminate not only the inhumanity of slavery but also the dreams and dilemmas of emancipation, tracing the personal journeys of seven men and one woman from bondage to freedom. In their wellresearched introduction, B. Eugene McCarthy and Thomas L. Doughton situate the Worcester slave narratives within a broader historical framework and analyze their meaning and significance. Drawing on a wide range of sources, they reconstruct the black community of Worcester and compare it with other New England black communities of the time, describing how the town evolved from a society with slaves in the colonial era to a hub for free blacks by the eve of the Civil War. They explain why these writings must be understood as part of a longestablished tradition of African American selfrepresentation, and show how the four narratives published before 1865 focus on the experience of slavery, while the four written after the war offer the fresh perspective of living in freedom. Headnotes describe the distinctive literary features of each narrative and provide additional information about the lives of the authors. The editors discuss why these exslaves came to Worcester, the circumstances in which each wrote his or her narrative, and the audiences they had in mind. No other collection of slave narratives offers such a diverse range of testimony within a specific historical and literary context, or a more compelling account of the transition from bondage to belonging.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-127-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
    B. Eugene McCarthy and Thomas L. Doughton
  5. FOREWORD
    (pp. xi-xviii)
    John Stauffer

    The eight slave narratives in this collection, published between 1842 and 1895, greatly enrich our understanding of black culture and consciousness. The authors, all African Americans who lived in Worcester, Massachusetts, are not well known, and their narratives have been understudied. Eugene McCarthy and Thomas Doughton have done a great service in collecting and editing these stories, for taken together they give us a vivid sense of what it felt like to be a slave. Here are people enduring and witnessing countless scenes of subjection; living in constant fear; feeling alienated from family, friends, community, and self; and struggling to...

  6. GENERAL INTRODUCTION
    (pp. xix-lvi)

    The eight authors represented in this collection are part of an effort of African Americans “to tell a free story” in their slave narratives and other forms of autobiographical writing. From the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries, whether born free or enslaved, African American authors labored to produce texts in different genres that confronted bondage and freedom. And, if we read African American narratives solely for confirmation of the “horrors” of slavery—as defined by the almost “classic” slave narratives of the 1840s and 1850s—we can miss an interconnectedness of African American literary production and the larger discourse of...

  7. THE NARRATIVES

    • THE NARRATIVE OF LUNSFORD LANE, BOSTON, 1842
      (pp. 1-37)
      LUNSFORD LANE

      Lunsford Lane was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1803, and like his parents, Edward and Clarissa, he was given the name Lane after their owner. As a house slave, he acquired social skills from daily interaction with whites in the “big house,” and as he says, he had in his teens leisure that he used to acquire money. “One day, while I was in this state of mind [“how I might be free”], my father gave me a small basket of peaches. I sold them for thirty cents, which was the first money I ever had in my life.”...

    • THE LIFE OF JOHN THOMPSON, A FUGITIVE SLAVE, WORCESTER, 1856
      (pp. 38-119)
      JOHN THOMPSON

      When a number of people asked John Thompson to put the “main facts” of his life “into permanent form,” he felt he had first “to discover what had been said by other partners in bondage.” Not surprisingly, then, he followed the paradigmatic narrative form: “I was born in Maryland, in 1812,” enumerating his owners’ names, the size of their plantation, and his first experience with slavery (“the rattling of the chains upon the limbs of the poor victims”), which he typifies in the manner of Frederick Douglass as “a hell on earth.” But the large personality and distinct character of...

    • THE EXPERIENCE OF REV. THOMAS H. JONES, WORCESTER, 1857
      (pp. 120-159)
      THOMAS H. JONES

      Thomas H. Jones was born to slave parents on a plantation outside Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1806. When nine years old he was sold to a Wilmington shopkeeper to work as a house servant and store clerk. As a young adult he married a slave woman, and they were parents of three children. But his wife’s owner moved her to Alabama, and Jones’s own master died in 1829. His new owner hired him out as a stevedore on the Wilmington docks. By the mid-1830s, Jones married another slave woman who bore three children before Jones purchased her freedom. Thomas and...

    • A NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE AND LABORS OF THE REV. G. W. OFFLEY, HARTFORD, 1859
      (pp. 160-173)
      G. W. OFFLEY

      The narrative of Rev. Greensbury Washington Offley is the briefest of the Worcester narratives. In few words he tells of his birth, his literacy and education, his religious faith; he discloses no hesitation about his beliefs or the veracity of his experience. His is an intensity of manner and expression that seems to be a family trait. When he wished to purchase his children, Offley’s father, a free man, was warned by the deceased master’s children that “they would shoot him dead” were he to try. But his mother rejoined, “if you buy one of my children I will cut...

    • SKETCHES OF MY LIFE IN THE SOUTH, SALEM, 1879
      (pp. 174-206)
      JACOB STROYER

      There are a number of unusual aspects to Jacob Stroyer’s life and narrative. His father was an African. Young Jacob was not sent to work in the fields—his mother’s uncle Esau was a supervisor on the plantation; he was a jockey for his owner’s racehorses (as he gained weight, he was apprenticed to a carpenter). In September 1864 he was impressed “with an unfortunate group [360] of my fellow negroes” to work on fortifications at Fort Sumter and was wounded when a Yankee “shell came down on the lime house and burst, and a piece cut my face open.”...

    • THE NARRATIVE OF BETHANY VENEY, A SLAVE WOMAN, WORCESTER, 1889
      (pp. 207-237)
      BETHANY VENEY

      “I have but little recollection of my very early life. My mother and her five children were owned by one James Fletcher, Pass Run, town of Luray, Page County, Virginia. Of my father I know nothing,” Bethany Veney relates in her narrative. She explains that her mother died when she was young and that, along with a sister, she went through several different owners.

      One of her owners, according to Veney, had a “wish not to hold slaves.” As her text tells us: “A gentleman from Ohio was visiting in the neighborhood; and Miss Lucy, knowing he was from a...

    • LIFE OF ISAAC MASON AS A SLAVE, WORCESTER, 1893
      (pp. 238-285)
      ISAAC MASON

      According to the treasurer’s accounts of the Boston Vigilance Committee, Isaac Mason and his wife arrived in Massachusetts in November 1850, among seven fugitives sheltered at the home of African American activist Lewis Hayden.¹ Mason wrote:

      being unsuccessful in obtaining work in that city . . . we were sent to Worcester. . . . I left my wife in Boston with the Hayden family. . . . Mr. William C. Nell a colored man, and agent of the Anti-Slavery Society sent us with letters of introduction to Mr. William Brown. . . . On arriving in this city, we...

    • RECOLLECTIONS OF SLAVERY TIMES, WORCESTER, 1895
      (pp. 286-320)
      ALLEN PARKER

      Known to Worcester children as “Pop” Parker, seldom seen “without a basket hanging on his arm, which contained popcorn and homemade candies” to sell in local schools, factories, and offices, Allen Parker became “one of the best known colored men in Massachusetts.”¹

      Parker was born enslaved on March 23, 1840, on a plantation near Edenton in Chowan County, North Carolina, his mother and father owned at separate locations. As he says, his life was like that of other adolescent slaves. But during the war, being sent as a young adult to work on fortifications at North Carolina ports, he meditated...

  8. INDEX
    (pp. 321-325)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 326-326)